Oil pipelines dominated the energy news on Nov. 29, when Canada’s government approved one of two controversial pipelines from Alberta’s oil sands to the west coast, rejected a second and gave a pass to a third, running south to the U.S. On Dec. 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined to issue a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River, near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, halting a project that achieved 90% completion but attracted international opposition. Despite Canada’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline, officials and First Nations continued to express opposition and drew encouragement from the Sioux success.
Alberta, Canada’s oil-rich province, exports over land to the U.S. but needs additional pipeline capacity for its growing volume of oil to export to other markets. Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project is a $5.1- billion, 715-mile-long twin of the Trans Mountain pipeline that, since 1953, has operated from Edmonton, Alberta, to Burnaby, B.C. “The project will effectively triple our capacity [to 890,000 barrels per day] to get Canadian energy resources to international markets beyond the United States,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a Nov. 29 press conference.
Trudeau also announced approval of Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 Replacement Project. Line 3 is an aging, primary pipeline on Enbridge’s mainline crude-oil system. The $7.7-billion project will replace 1,031 miles of 34-in. segments with 36-in. pipe between Hardisty, Alberta, and Superior, nearly doubling its capacity to 760,000 bbl per day. Pending U.S. regulatory approvals, the project is scheduled to enter service in 2019.
Finally, Trudeau directed the National Energy Board to dismiss Enbridge’s application to build the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, running from Edmonton to Kitimat, B.C. The $7-billion project was a proposed 731-mile twin pipeline system and marine terminal to transport 525,000 bbl a day of oil for export and to import 193,000 bbl a day of condensate.
The dismissal is a bitter pill for Enbridge. The pipeline was approved in 2014, but a court of appeal this year found that the federal government failed to properly consult indigenous communities. A national election in 2015 brought to power a new government with a new policy, dooming the project.
Consultation with indigenous communities has been a weak point in the pipeline planning bonanza. Environmental activists have made common cause with Native American and First Nations protecting their reservations, their water and their sacred sites, attracting large, stubborn crowds of diverse protesters who are resisting or completely stopping oil pipeline construction programs.
The protests against the 1,172-mile-long, $3.78-billion Dakota Access Pipeline, crossing the Missouri River at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, began last spring because the Sioux claimed they had not been adequately consulted about the crossing. After eight months of growing international protest, the Army halted approval of the easement and called for further consultations with the tribe.
Opposition also is strong in British Columbia, where the Trans Mountain line crosses 15 First Nation reserve lands. Some have signed agreements with Kinder Morgan; others are complaining in court that the government’s consultation with them was not adequate.
The 1,250-member Lower Nicola Indian Band, living between Kamloops and Hope, will vote in February 2017 on whether to support the Trans Mountain pipeline’s crossing its traditional territory, says Helder Ponte, executive director. He thinks First Nations will be encouraged by the success of protesters at Standing Rock and notes that First Nations succeeded in halting Northern Gateway because the court ruled that consultation with them had been inadequate. Line 3 has sparked much less controversy than the other pipelines and is expected to have a clear path to construction.